Hose Bib Repair

old hose bibb1aSo… the hose bib on the side of their house was old, leaking and the stem was stripped badly enough that the oval knob wouldn’t even fit on it, much less turn the valve anymore.

A phone call to one of those big plumbing companies in the area (one that you see advertizing on TV all the time with a really annoying jingle) left them with a $300 estimate that would require cutting a hole through the master bedroom wall.  (And did not include the sheet rock repair after replacing the sweat-on fitting.)

hose bibb1aWhat I did, on the other hand… was call around the area to plumbing supply businesses to find the same type of hose bib – a Matco brand with a 1/2″ washer-type valve stem with top packing washer.  It turns out that practically no one sells the replacement valves for these anymore – this isn’t a part you’ll find at Lowes or Home Depot; but buying a whole new unit itself was a grand total of $6.81.  (I simply removed the valve stem from the new one and the actual brass housing went in the recycle bin.)

hosebibb2hosebibb3At that point all that was left to do onsite was turn the water supply off, remove the old valve stem, screw the new one in, tighten (enough but NOT too much)… and turn the water supply back on.  A permanent fix; that took about 5 – 10 minutes.

I did go ahead and charge them an hour’s worth of labor for the time spent hunting around and the drive across town to a plumbing supply house that had these in stock.  Grand total?  $51.81.  For that estimated $300 dollar job.  Do you ever wonder what all that advertising on TV costs?valves1a

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Chimney Flue Access Door

bcabin8A friend has a log cabin with a wood stove flue that has a wooden surround.  It apparently never occurred to the builder that one day the flue would need to be cleaned.  (With the steep roof line on this place, the extra charge from a chimney sweep would almost make someone consider not using the wood stove anymore.)

flue_door1I took a day to drive up with him, throwing tools, some surplus lumber, and miscellaneous hardware and fasteners in the back of the truck for an overnight outing. The wood had been lying in my shop surplus pile for several months.  The day before I had spent an hour or so ripping and milling down some clear western cedar to use as trim pieces; If materials are “left-overs” I usually mark them on an invoice as “SS – shop surplus:  N/C.” I consider using every piece of wood as efficiently as possible one of my contributions to sustainability as well as extra customer service.

IMG_20131104_164234_028It wasn’t difficult – removing the existing trim, cutting the siding for an opening, installing some bracing, using the cut siding pieces for the new door material, then cutting and installing the left-over cedar as trim.  A surplus stainless steel piano hinge, two galvanized slide-lock latches (it gets really windy on that ridge and I wanted to make sure the door wouldn’t blow open when the cabin was unoccupied) and this project was done except for eventual finishing to match the rest of the cabin.  To my thinking?  Kind of a no-brainer thing to do on a fall afternoon.

My friend had been puttering around doing some odds and ends and came out to see it as I was cleaning up.  He stopped and stared for a minute or two, then said, “Dude… How on earth did you do that?  It literally seemed beyond him.  The only answer I had for him was “Man… this is my thing.  I simply looked at it for a while until I ‘saw’ the new door and then just made it happen.”  It does remind me that what seems simple for some isn’t anything like that for others.  Funny old world, huh?flue_door2

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Rotten Crawl Space Door

It seems like a broken record some days…  whatever it is, it’s rotten.  The original crawlspace door was hanging by one hinge; all wood was deteriorated and rotten, and this door assembly was infested by earwigs to boot.  (Earwigs love moist cracks and crevices – an earlier, temporary repair of putting a piece of plywood over the original wood door gave them a perfect home.)

One nice thing about my work:  I NEVER throw surplus lumber out.  Anything leftover from any job comes to the shop to be stored until there’s a use for it.  This new door required two hinges, a latch, one tube of caulk… and some leftover cedar, plywood, and treated 2 X 4 lumber.  I really enjoy sending an invoice to a client that lists under “materials – lumber: No Charge, SS.”  (That’s my invoice code for “shop surplus”.)

This wasn’t a very large project – it required 5.25 hours total, including my shop time spent ripping and milling the cedar trim down from larger, left over cedar boards.  Total cost:  $193.59.

Click any image for photo album

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Rotten Wood, Part… (Whatever)

Wood rots.  (Inferior, non-wood materials that some builders use rot even worse.) Especially with hot and humid summers.  (You would be surprised at how much rot removal and repair I get calls on.) Unfortunately, sometimes folks don’t notice the rot until they can see it.  By that time, it’s a mess.  There’s no other way to describe it.  You can’t just cover it up; you have to cut it out.  When someone calls me with the question, “Do you work on rotten… anything?”  I usually know that surgery is coming up on the agenda.

The key is to do it right, do it well (and safely, if ANYTHING structural is ever involved), and make it look as good as new.  It’s not easy, nor is it a lot of fun.  But there’s not quite anything like the feeling I get when I finally load up all the tools and take a final look at a home that looks as good as it ever did!

This was about a 20 hour job – Removing gutters,  cutting out all rotten siding and  wood, shoring up all structural elements, re-installing newer and longer lasting materials, and finally, trimming and painting it all so it looks like it was designed that way!

Click any image for the photo gallery.


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Rotten Railings

Any wood, no matter how well painted or stained, will eventually rot when exposed to weather.  Untreated lumber, used for decorative porch railings, rots within a few years.  (Why some builders use regular, non-treated lumber in exterior settings is beyond me.)

These railings on a home going on the market needed to be completely torn out and replaced – not an easy job when you have to match the existing railings in more protected areas under the roof.  Treated lumber was milled to match the existing railings, treated stringers were cut to match as well, and all were installed with custom-made jigs to match the existing offset of stiles.  A very unusual angle and joint on the back railing had to be duplicated as well.

End result?  Brand new railings that should, with proper care, last 3 or 4 times as long as the originals.  Total job cost – front at back, including materials and labor – less than $600.

Click any image for photo gallery.

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For Friends… And a Little Bit of Cash

But not enough (cash, that is)…  There’s not enough profit in a job like this to ever make it worthwhile  solely based on monetary terms!

Back up a bit:  It’s the chicken or the egg to call them clients or friends.  Both apply.  So when the call comes in that a rental house has a pretty severe leak in the master bath shower?  You go.  When you get there are find out the house has a 28 inch crawlspace and you’re going to have to crawl about 2o feet, around drain pipes, under air ducts, squeeze into an impossibly small and contorted space, lie on mud and rocks just to get to the drain pipe?  You take a deep breath and change your shoes.

24 hours later, when you’ve made that trip into “crawl space Hell” over a dozen times to finally get the old, mangled-up drain off (A result of it being cross threaded when installed years ago and not fixed immediately) and a new one installed, you realize you didn’t do this particular job for the money.  (Oh, it didn’t hurt, but that – by itself – misses the point!)  You did it because your clients are also your friends.   (And you believe that every client should be treated exactly like you would treat a friend.)  You helped them out – on a moment’s notice – and took one major headache off of their hands… Because you could.  You knew the sub floor was wet, as were floor joists.  But you also knew they weren’t rotten – yet, and this wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  Telling them that was perhaps as important as getting the new drain installed.

Sure, they could have called a plumber.  And this job would have cost them three or four times as much.  If the plumber showed up.  If the job weren’t “sold up.”  If the guy’s buddy didn’t get a bone thrown in for extra “reconstruction” that wasn’t needed.  (And here I hate to be negative but I see it happen far too often.)  They didn’t need all that.  They needed a new drain put in.  They needed it now.

So I helped – and made a little cash.  And washed a load of laundry totally separate from anything that ever leaves the work shop downstairs!  It’s all good.  Even when it’s not.

(By the way – this ended up taking 4 hours instead of 1 & 1/2 because the old drain had to be worked loose enough to get a keyhole saw into it so the cross threaded lock nut could be cut off.)

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Garage Door Surround

Recently I’ve spoken to several folks in a nearby neighborhood, all with a similar problem. Their garage doors were framed and then cladded with aluminum fascia material.  It looks nice, doesn’t need to be painted, and is usually called “maintenance free.”  The problem is, some 10 years later, many of these are completely rotten.  (From walking this whole neighborhood, I estimated that perhaps as many as ten percent of the double garage doors I saw have this problem.)

It’s not that aluminum cladding is a bad idea – I have the exact same thing at home on my garage doors.  The problem is in this picture at the right.  Above the frame, exposed to weather, this aluminum was pieced together, a gap left unsealed, just waiting for water to infiltrate.  The water gets in behind the aluminum cladding and can’t get out.  It only takes a few years for the entire frame to be rotted like this picture on the left.  And eventually, if nothing is done, this rot will spread to the header assembly.  That’s structural – and it’s a HUGE deal.  More than a handyman who works by himself can deal with.  That’s essentially rebuilding your entire garage.  Expensive?  Take a guess.

Here’s a checklist if you are concerned about something like this:

  • First, look in the center of your garage door opening to see if the aluminum is pieced (pic above).  (Use a ladder if you can’t see above the door framing well.)  Especially check the top side in the center of the span, just outside your siding to see if there is a gap open to the weather.  Even a ¼ – ½ inch gap over a few years could mean trouble.
  • Another trouble sign is any discoloration, either on the aluminum cladding or streaking down the garage doors.  Dark stains and oxidation that won’t clean away are a sign of wood rot inside.
  • If you suspect rotting, you can try another simple test.  Squeeze the 1 & ½” board through the aluminum.  If it feels “spongy” at all, the wood underneath is probably rotten.

The good news is, caught early, this is a cosmetic repair and won’t cost a fortune to fix properly.  I usually follow these steps:

  • Remove the aluminum cladding (I don’t save it)
  • Remove all rotten wood and replace with two layers of treated lumber (One I’ve already done in this neighborhood had regular (non-treated)  framing lumber installed in this location!)
  • First I frame the opening with “regular” 2 inch treated framing lumber, routed on the facing edge (for a finish), then I add another layer of 5/4″ treated lumber, also routed on the facing edge for an additional seal on the garage door.
  • Add aluminum drip edge above all for water resistance.
  • I then caulk, paint and replace the PVC garage stop molding.  With vinyl siding I remove the “J” channel as needed, re-install afterward and seal with silicone caulk.
  • A typical estimate sheet (I bill by the hour plus materials) for this type of repair is HERE.

No, this repair is technically not “maintenance free” – but I’d much rather put a coat of paint on this every few years instead of replacing the whole thing again in a decade!  (Or have this show up as the “Deal Breaker” on the inspection report that scares a buyer away from your home.)

(Click any image for photo gallery)

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Not Glamorous But Necessary

Wood decks are everywhere in our area.  And that means that they need to be cleaned and sealed every so often.  And the truth is most of us don’t do this chore often enough.  So when it comes time to call me, it’s usually a bigger job than folks have the time or energy to mess with.

Pressure washing and sealing outside decks certainly isn’t glamorous – but when an old deck looks almost new again… It’s satisfying to everyone!

The deck’s pictured here took approx six hours, spaced over a three-day period to make sure all wood was completely dry before clear sealer was applied.  They also hadn’t been cleaned and sealed in five years, and soaked up almost five gallons of sealer.  But the result?  You judge from the before and after pics.

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Knowing What to do and How to do it

A problem with RV faucets:  The factory installed models are usually – to put it mildly – junk.  But they are “RV” models – which usually means they are cheap plastic (the industry calls it “lightweight”), take odd connectors and parts, and usually when they break, can only be repaired with more “RV” parts.  (That usually means more expensive!)

The real fix is to know what to do and how to do it, to replace these cheap faucets with better quality ones you can buy at your local home repair center.  (When they break and you’re on the road somewhere, you just find a Lowes or Home Depot, instead of paying 3 times the price at the nearest camping center – assuming they have what you need.)

Not everyone is familiar with mating copper tubing to Pex tubing or knowing which connectors are needed to modify an installation like this – and if you’re unsure of what to do, chances are you won’t be able to do it laying on your back, contorted into a small space, working almost totally by feel.  That’s why people pay me to do what seems simple – I know both WHAT to do as well as HOW to do it.

A couple of hours and this rig is ready to hit the road again!

(Click any image for photo gallery.)

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Antique Chairs

A set of six antique chairs; 75 – 100 years old; three generations in the family… in poor shape from a previous repair. A non-flexible, epoxy-type glue used some years ago wouldn’t allow the flex and give that these old, poplar chairs need. The old glue had broken and in some places, actually cracked the wood worse than it would have been without it.

The job?  To very carefully pull apart every joint possible, clean all the old glue, re-glue and clamp the chairs.  As sentimental as the client is, they aren’t going to re-upholster the seats if the chairs are beyond repair.

In some cases this was gluing and clamping three or four joints; in a couple it was essentially rebuilding the chair.  A couple were missing the diagonal supports which meant cutting a new blank and then hand-carving it to fit the odd size tongue and groove side boards.

This is not a job to be sloppy or careless with; it’s old wood and each chair is pretty fragile.  But once glued with the proper glue (high strength but flexible – NOT “superglue” type), these chairs are ready for the next generation in the family.

Average labor – depending on how many glue joints must be repaired and whether new braces have to be fabricated:  Approx. 1.5 – 2.5 hours per chair.  (And this job gets done with only two chairs at one time; not enough room in the shop for all of them and they are too valuable to take a chance of stumbling over and breaking one!)

Click the image below for the Photo Gallery.

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